review: [under the radar] zone of silence

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Zone of Silence

Dramatist Konstantin Steshik
Featuring Pavel Gorodnitski, Yana Rusakevich, Oleg Sidorchik, Denis Tarasenko, Marina Yurevich
Belarus Free Theatre at La Mama First Floor Theatre, 74A East 4th Street
production web site: http://lamama.org/first-floor-theatre/being-harold-pinter/
company web site: http://dramaturg.org/?lang=en

Special performances January 15, 2011 and January 16, 2011

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
January 16, 2011

The Belarus Free Theatre and its members reside at the edge of a politics so culturally and personally potent and immediate and swiftly changing  that my feeble brain cannot quite encompass the dimensions.  This is a company formed in 2005 and currently politically embattled in the repressive political regime back home in Belarus.  The actors and creative team had to sneak out of their country for this festival (and the world learned yesterday that several Chicago theatre companies will be offering them creative and performing homes and support during the month of February — see http://tinyurl.com/4hobega).  The playbill for Being Harold Pinter and Zone of Silence (the show I am attending) includes under the listings of each company member text such as “she has been arrested 3 times for participation in peaceful political activities” or “he has been arrested for his professional activities” or “he was beaten up during peaceful political action” or “he cannot apply for any official job in Belarus because of his cooperation with Belarus Free Theatre”.  Your senses are heightened before meeting these actors who risk their lives to tell their stories on stage.  Reacting and reviewing such politically energized theatre becomes a political act — or simply provides an additional context to analysis and reaction.  I shall attempt the latter.

Zone of Silence, performed in Russian and Belarusian with simultaneous English supertitles, is composed of three independent parts performed by the same actors.  Each part is confession and impersonation and analysis — in varying parts and to various effects.

“Chapter 1 — Childhood Legends”, is a sort of sequential confessional.  Individual actors share their own stories tinged with details of growing up in a socialist / communist society: adolescent angst and the death of a parent, infused with moments of puppetry and fluid movements with furniture.  On the one hand, this is much like stories in A Chorus Line‘s audition during which individual dancers’ lives and dreams are laid bare on the line.  On the other hand, story telling here can involve fluid prop manipulation — one actor’s manipulation of a straight-backed chair lingers  — and puppetry — newspaper becomes a small child at the core of an international custody debate.  Haunting.

“Chapter 2 — Diverse” is a living newspaper, real life stories, Anna Deavere Smith presentation of lives of fellow Belarusians the actors interviewed and filmed (film follows each individual dramatization): a woman who carries on her love of Stalin in sidewalk demonstrations, a homeless man who loves to dance, a young hustler.

“Chapter 3 — Numbers” is a flowing piece of disturbing statistics that describe the current dire situation in post-Chernobyl fallout Belarus — politics are but a fraction of the story in a society in which there are 80 abortions for every 100 births, where it is almost impossible to hope for housing, where 60 % of married women report domestic violence, and where 70 % of children ages 17 and 18 have chronic illnesses.  The statistics are given life through dance, mime, and movement.  And the sequence about the country losing 1/3 of the population in World War II is accompanied by Marlene Dietrich’s version of “Lili Marlene” (her version among others on this page http://ingeb.org/garb/lmarleen.html).

Powerful on almost every dimension possible.  And the people of Chicago will now be able to thrill to the magic created by these talented performers and the show that sold out before I was able to purchase a ticket — Being Harold Pinter.

© Martha Wade Steketee (January 18, 2011)

2 comments on “review: [under the radar] zone of silence”

  1. HI Martha – Last week I attended a benefit for the Free Belarus Theatre. The company did 30 minutes of the final act of this piece – the statistics are horrifying, the performance was powerful. I am still reeling from it. This was definitely the sort of theatre that punches your lights out to see reality.

    (great meeting you yesterday!)

  2. A delight to meet you too, Sarah. I toyed with attending last Monday night’s benefit for the theatre company at the Public too, but was unable to fit it in. Darn it! I’m proud that my “other” hometown of Chicago will be embracing this company next month. Inspiring and terrifying and riveting and real damn theatre this work. Thanks for finding my blog .. and see you at the theatre!

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